love

Meditation: Our Quest for Love

Bruce Davis, Ph.D From Huffington Post

Some people are always in their worldly life. They say they either do not have time for meditation or they do not believe in sitting, breathing,paying attention to the moment. The idea of an inner life is like a foreign country that does not interest them to travel to.

In recent years, however, more and more people are trying meditation. After experiencing the tastes and delights of an inner landscape they find this foreign travel is not so foreign. In fact, meditation is just the opposite. It is an experience of coming home within ourselves. With less worldly distraction, our awareness finds its own essence, an innocence of simply being. When the details on our mind are not so busy occupying and stirring up our attention, an experience of our heart is naturally present. Love comes forward in our awareness. People who meditate discover love is their true awareness when all the stuff of daily life is not mixed in.

Every day, meditation and the calming, centering effects call more love from within us and into our lives. Yes, meditation invites love into our lives.There is no magic here. A brief time of morning meditation including simplicity, being, silence becomes an anchor for more simple being and peace in our lives. Love attracts love. As meditation becomes a priority so does love become more front and center.

As we take time for meditation, our awareness learns to rest in our heart. We are thinking less and being heartfully more present. In the silence of meditation, our noisy thoughts dissolve in an inner quiet. So much thinking welcomes peace and quiet. Our awareness naturally grabs the stillness of meditation like a child grabbing candy! The sweetness of no thought is just too good to pass by. Of course the world keeps tugging on us. But with our meditation practice, the way to the candy store becomes clearer, easy, and fun. We know it is there. We just have to take the time, close our eyes, and go there.

The simplicity of our journey into meditation becomes a lesson in simplicity in other parts of life. Simplicity is love’s best friend. There is no limit to where simplicity and love, where this relationship can lead us.

With meditation, each of us find our own special way to uncover our ground of being. A candle, ocean view, sacred altar, mantra, or simple silence and meditation begins. Underneath our complicated personality, our likes, dislikes, fears, and self importance, our awareness can just be. As we grab onto inner silence, our thoughts are untying. As the rope of our mental life loosens, meditation opens the heart. As we enter, we are free. The inner quiet washes our personality. The deep silence of meditation is perfect therapy, healing, restoring love into the very structure of our personality and life.

There is an inner vault. It is a place where our daily world cannot enter. I use the word “vault” because even though there are actually no walls, the boundary to this place is so true, nothing but silence, being, awareness can be present. This place is available to all of us. This inner vault is a solid place of complete quietude. Here God is absorbing us and we are absorbing God. There is no separation. Meditation is the most direct route. As we leave our daily world behind, the gentle wind of our breath and stillness of heart take us. An inner space opens. Meditation lessens the weight of our personality as we embrace this vault of inner stillness. There is an emptiness which is actually a warm, pure presence. Deep silence and this inner vault comes forward. Deep silence and the landscape of the heart inside our heart unveils. Here there is a vastness and quality of love that is other worldly yet very natural, as if always waiting for us.

As where before we would chase riches in the world, in meditation we begin to unearth inner riches. In our ground of being is real treasure. Here is an abundance which gives us generosity, humility, and gratitude. Our patterns, routines in worldly life begin to change. Much of who we think we are, what we do is only a habit of thought and doing. The treasure inside us changes all of this and that, changing much of what we think, feel,strive for, and hold onto as important.

This inner treasure is our source of more honesty, humor, patience, and kindness for ourselves and others. Our normal identity and priorities are transforming. Vacations, retreats, retirement is planned around life’s real treasure.It is rather easy to step aside from the distractions in daily life, at least for some days. Getting by our own mental distractions is more of a challenge. Compulsive thoughts, our ever wandering mind can seem so overwhelming. Here our intention is important. Lets seek real peace and quiet. Our focus and concentration helps tame our distractions. Lets practice receiving our heart essence. This gentleness within tames our nervous energy. The peace around us supports us to find and receive deep inner silence. Step by step, meditation is breaking habits of thought and compulsively doing for the special love of simply being.

Follow Bruce Davis, Ph.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/silentstay

All You Need is Love, Gratitude, and Oxytocin: the Science of Romance

By Lauren Klein | February 11, 2014 

A new study finds a biological mechanism behind “thank you”—and reveals one way that it bonds couples together.

Valentine’s Day is right around the corner, inviting us to think about what’s at the heart of our romantic relationships. Is there some sort of “glue” that binds us together with other people?

The GGSC’s coverage of gratitude is sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation as part of our Expanding Gratitude project.

A recent study from GGSCGratitude Research Fellow Sara Algoe and colleague Baldwin Way, published earlier this month in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, suggests the answer may be gratitude.

It’s well-established that being grateful is a unique and powerful way to foster healthy relationships, but science is just now beginning to understand that there there’s a biological mechanism behind “thank you.”

The reason gratitude brings us together, the new study suggests, is because of its relationship to our big O. That’s right: We’re talking about our oxytocin system.

Gratitude will keep us together

Oxytocin is a neuropeptide, popularly known for its effects on pro-social behaviors, like trust, generosity and affection. It’s involved in all kinds of human social interactions, from parenting to meeting a new acquaintance—but its baseline in the body is around zero and it needs a stimulus to cause its release.

So, the researchers, curious about the closer kinds of social bonds, sought out couples in ongoing romantic relationships and invited them into the lab, where they were given an opportunity to say “thanks” to their partner, a situation in which oxytocin would be particularly likely to reveal its influence.

These 77 couples—all heterosexual and monogamous—visited the lab twice, two weeks apart, and completed brief nightly questionnaires for each of the 14 nights between visits. At the beginning of the study, they were also asked to fill out a questionnaire on how satisfied they felt in their relationship.

Once in the lab, they were asked to choose something big or small—but something specific—that their partner did for him or her and for which he or she felt grateful. After he or she said thanks, both partners would privately rate their feelings of love, positivity, and responsiveness. While they filled out these self-reports, four “judges” submitted their own ratings on what they’d observed of these couples’ expressions of gratitude. Once everyone’s pencils were down, then the partners would swap roles and repeat.

Each partner, then, got to be part of two different interactions: one in which he or she expressed gratitude and one in which he or she received an expression of gratitude.

Then it was time to get physical. The researchers took a saliva sample, looking for a particular gene known as CD38—a key regulator of oxytocin release and therefore a big player in social interactions. Researchers were hoping to find a genetic basis for the pattern of effects they’d observed as their participants gave and received thanks. This step confirmed their hypothesis: CD38 is, in fact, significantly associated with a number of positive psychological and behavioral outcomes that are all intimately related to the expression of gratitude.

It means that participants reported that they felt more loving.  They also reported feeling more peaceful, amused, and proud. They perceived their partner as being more understanding, validating, caring, and generally more responsive. They were more likely to have reported spontaneously thanking their partner for something they’d appreciated on any given day. And they were more satisfied with the quality of their relationship overall.

CD38 is all you need

More on Love, Gratitude, and Oxytocin

These findings suggest there is something about the genes that control our oxytocin system, which systematically predicts our ability to experience positive moments with someone close to us.

Is there something specific about our oxytocin system, the authors wondered, that promotes social bonds? Or could it be the case that saying thanks, generally speaking, feels good enough to reinforce our relationship with the person with whom we’re sharing this joy?

The researchers ran a different study. They didn’t ask participants to say thanks. Instead, they asked for them to share a personal positive event. Like those in the first study, participants felt joy and enthusiasm. But, unlike in the first one, no pattern emerged at a genetic level. The presence of CD38, here, could not systematically predict the presence of these positive feelings.

Somehow, then, the oxytocin system isn’t just selective toward joy or feeling good. It’s really selective toward something about gratitude, perhaps to the extent that sharing gratitude—saying that my happiness is due to your role in my life—recognizes our interdependence. The authors say that the oxytocin system is associated with “solidifying the glue that binds adults into meaningful and important relationships.”

And while this study isn’t the first to suggest that we’re social creatures, it is perhaps the first to suggest that our emotional response to someone sharing a kind word or deed is deeply rooted in our bodies and is part of our evolutionary history.

How the neuroscience of meditation rewires the brain for love – San Francisco Women’s Health | Examiner.com

Essential to human survival early in life is the ability to form a secure bond in infancy. It has been said that babies who receive food, water, clothing, and all their basic physical requirements but lack human connection do not thrive. Why is attachment so intrinsic for people? Our species are a social bunch and like infants who are deficient in affection from primary caregivers, adults that lack strong interpersonal bonds with friends and family are more prone to the havoc of stress. The ability to bond with others begins literally in our own minds. Sometimes this capacity may be atrophied after an extended period of social isolation. Fortunately the brain can be retrained back to a state of love through meditation. This is not romantic love but the “agape” kind which comes from the Greek and refers to a love of humankind. Close relationships are a vital foundation for well-being but if your mind is rewired against love, it can be a sabotaging force in all areas of one’s life. Dr. Marsha Lucas, a Washington-DC psychologist and neuropsychologist, is the author of Rewire Your Brain For Love which explains how the neuroscience of meditation can rewire the brain back to love. Dr. Lucas answered the following Q&A about her book and the benefits of mindfulness meditation and its clinical applications.

How would you describe mindfulness meditation to someone who has never heard of it before?

I think the best definition of mindfulness practice is one from Jon Kabat-Zinn: Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, nonjudgmentally.

If you’ve never meditated before (or even if you have), you may have some idea that meditation requires sitting on the floor like a pretzel with no distractions or discomfort, in a blessedly quiet, sublimely inspirational room, legs crossed in lotus position, serenely closed eyes, and your mind completely still.

Gaahh—no wonder so many people think they can’t meditate! Who can achieve that?

So what does it look like? You bring your attention to something. Your mind wanders (naturally!). You notice that your mind has wandered, and you gently – nicely, lovingly, kindly (you get the point) – bring it back. Lather, rinse, repeat. The more your mind wanders, the more chances you have to notice and return – which ancient practice and neuroscience researchers alike think may be the “magic moment” in which change in the mind and the brain occur.

From a neuroscience perspective, how does the practice of mindfulness meditation “rewire” the brain?

We have the capacity to create actual changes in the connections and pathways in our brain, throughout our adult lives. That’s a relatively new finding in neuroscience – “neuroplasticity” – the brain’s ability to grow new neurons and new connections beyond about age 21 – wasn’t widely accepted until 10-15 years ago.

To put it very simply, whatever your brain does the most, it commits the most resources to. Hebb’s “law” states that neurons that fire together, wire together. So, if you practice playing piano, you can see increased density and connections in the brain areas controlling fine motor control of both hands. If you play the violin, same results – except only for the left (fingering) hand. Studies have shown that these changes occur even if you never actually use your hand(s) to practice – but just visualize the activity of your hands on the piano, for instance.

Now, here’s what’s most exciting to me as a psychologist, because I know that the brain can work for us, or against us, in our relationships: The research being done in neuroscience and brain-imaging labs has been showing that the practice of mindfulness meditation seems to change the size and activity in brain regions that are deeply involved in how we “do” relationships. These include the insula, the prefrontal cortex, the amygdala, and other areas I talk about (in plain English!) in the book.

Is creating vibrant relationships through mindfulness meditation about reducing “automatic anxious responses” in people who tend to have over-developed fear responses?

That’s definitely a part of it – developing pathways in the brain that let you have better, smoother, and in-the-moment ways to keep your “alarm button” (in your lower brain, your amygdala) from hijacking you, so you don’t end up having fear-based, anger-based, or sort of “knee-jerk” defensive responses – the ones that get you into relationship trouble.

There’s more, though – developing a more integrated brain helps you experience so much more in your relationships, much more than just managing your fear better.

What are the 7 key relationship benefits you detail in the book from mindfulness meditation?

Perfect question to follow up with! Here’s the best way I’ve found to summarize the impact of mindfulness practice on relationships:

1. Better management of your body’s reactions
2. Regulation of your “fear” response
3. Greater emotional resilience
4. Increased response flexibility
5. Improved insight or “self-¬knowing”
6. Healthier, balanced empathy and attunement – to yourself and others
7. A perspective shift from “me” to “we”

I’ve found that the growth of these seven acquirable skills — that’s important: we can acquire these! — has such potent impact on our relationships with others that I call them the seven “high-voltage” relationship benefits of mindfulness.

How come people are on autopilot in their automatic reactions to certain situations? What is the brain wiring behind that response?

Think about getting a nasty “ouch” when we’re very little. Maybe a kitten accidentally gave you a painful (and surprising!) bite when you were a baby. You won’t explicitly remember it (our baby brain can’t yet store memories with “date and time stamps”), but thereafter, you’ll be likely to sort of automatically avoid (or distrust, or dislike) cats, since your brain just “knows danger when it sees it.” So you automatically practice that avoidance, reinforcing it. Good way to survive, right? Learn once and it’s in there – you don’t even have to think about it, because it’s a reaction without “thought.”

We’re talking about implicit memory, and much of what we learn in the first two years of life are implicit memories – we don’t have “conscious” awareness of the events or feelings, but we learn from them and are shaped by them (literally, in our brain’s pathways).

From birth until about two years, during a staggering amount of brain development and wiring, we’re very busy with one of our most important jobs as babies – developing attachments with our caregivers, so we’ll survive. Those early experiences of love, attachment, vulnerability – being with a caregiver who “gets” you and responds accordingly, or not — get stored in implicit memory. So, much like recognizing a cat instantly and knowing what it “means” to you, your partner’s disappointed look evokes that instant “knowing” and long-ago wired-up expectation and reaction (maybe trying harder to please, maybe going silent and withdrawing). Being emotionally vulnerable and getting close to someone – that could fire up the implicit memory of a cold and distant parent, and that’s implicitly remembered and acted upon just as unconsciously as your fear of small furry things with teeth.

Those “unthought knowns,” as Christopher Bollas calls them, can affect us like a puppet master pulling the strings on a marionette, or like the autopilot program on a plane – without our awareness. Breaking out of autopilot is the key to better relationships.

How long does it take for a person’s brain to show changes on a brain scan as a result of mindfulness practice?

You don’t have to practice for years to see these changes in the brain — some of the most recent findings have looked at people who have never practiced meditation, then taught half of those folks how to meditate and had them practice it for eight weeks. When the researchers compared the “never meditated” group to the “meditating for eight weeks” group, the people who had meditated for just eight weeks showed beneficial brain changes. Richie Davidson, PhD, a phenomenal researcher in this area, talks about changes in as little as two weeks of regular mindfulness practice, and there are more and more studies showing up in the research supporting that.

That fits well with what I’ve seen in my clinical practice – my patients often start to report (and show) changes in how they’re relating to themselves and the rest of their world within three to six weeks of regular mindfulness practice.

Describe the direct connection between specific meditations and how they improve relationships?

I’ll give one example here – in each chapter of the book I describe brain areas, their relationship connection (and the related research), and a meditation exercise that taps into that brain area getting a beneficial workout.

The insula is an area related to bringing information about what’s going on in the body from down low in the brain, up into our higher, more “intellectual” brain areas. A number of studies have shown that practicing mindful awareness of sensations the in body (like in a Body Scan practice) can plump up and bring greater activity to the insula. One benefit of that? There’s a study out of Dartmouth that found a correlation between activation of the insula and the quality of orgasm in women. (Just in case anyone’s interested in that.)

Do you recommend certain resources that people can utilize in their local area to reinforce their practice, such as meditation groups?

Many of the patients in my practice who have tried meditation previously and found it too difficult come to realize—after finding a group of others to “sit” with—that this was the missing element for them in being able to maintain their commitment and their practice.

There are resources in many communities now for meditation in groups. The form of meditation that I focus on (and that has been the subject of what I find to be the most compelling neuroscience research) is mindfulness, or insight, meditation. Here are some of the larger communities, organizations, and practice centers. An online search for these – or even simply a search like “mindfulness meditation Topeka Kansas”, should lead you to some near you.
• The Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society
• Insight Meditation Society
• Spirit Rock Meditation Center
• InsightLA

If you’re looking for other tools to support their practice, maybe because you’re too far from any mindfulness classes or “sits”, Kate Crisp of the Prison Dharma Network has put together a list of apps, and I agree with her recommendations. You can find them listed here: www.prisondharmanetwork.net/profiles/blogs/review-of-best-mindfulness-apps.

In addition, a lot of my patients have found “Insight Timer” (for iPhone, Android, and other platforms) (https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/insight-timer-meditation-timer/id337472899?mt=8) to be great not only as a handy timer for how long you’re meditating, but also as a “community” because it can connect you with others around the world who are practicing at the same time.

The development of new, more integrated circuits in the brain through mindfulness, how are these structural changes intrinsic to improving relationships? What areas of the brain have these new circuits develops?

There are so many aspects of how a better-integrated brain supports our well-being, and then there are some specific areas and pathways between them to talk about – it’s hard to distill them down and have it still make sense, so I’ll just consider these as breadcrumbs to lead along this big, beautiful trail . . .

Structural and functional brain changes that impact our relationship skills have been found to change in response to mindfulness practice – studies have shown increased activity (or helpful inhibition) in the following areas, and/or increased gray matter (neurons and their connections with one another – one time it’s good to be “dense” in your brain!):

• the insula: important in attunement and empathy toward others, as well as self-awareness in general

• the amygdala: involved in immediate “knee-jerk” fight-or-flight emotional and physical responses, and the implicit memories we have about attachment, related to developing and expressing trust

• the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC): a big player in the communication between the cortical areas (the upper, sort of “thinking” part of your brain) and the subcortical (your lower, more “raw-feeling” brain parts, like your amygdala). Important in emotional regulation, the ability to recognize one’s emotions, and motivation to communicate with others

• the left prefrontal cortex: with increased activation (as seen in mindfulness meditators), the left PFC improves positive mood, approach (vs. withdrawal), and other relationship goodies

• the OMPFC (orbitomedial prefrontal cortex): a key structure in gathering and processing “social information.” If you see a facial expression that looks like someone who is about to blow her top, you can thank your OMPFC for helping you draw on context and previous experiences—allowing you to calculate your reaction based on whether the face belongs to your scary exploding boss or your two-month-old niece.

• And don’t get me started on the hippocampus (involved in calming down the amygdala so you don’t wig out during an argument)… the smart vagus (an evolutionary circuit supporting safe emotional connection with others)… von Economo neurons (possibly major players in empathy and compassion)…

Other articles by Dr. Lucas can be found on Psychology Today or at DailyOM. A free download of her basic mindfulness meditation is also available on her website. She has also recorded a video segment on YouTube titled “Breaking Out of Autopilot”.

How the neuroscience of meditation rewires the brain for love – San Francisco Women’s Health | Examiner.com.